MARYLAND HEIGHTS — The only time size matters to Steve Smith is when it relates to the chip on his team's collective shoulder.
Bigger is better.
The Pattonville football coach, Smith has had his share of big, strong and talented players. But the only Pirate named as a first team all-state selection was recent graduate Donovan Prott, who at 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds was a menacing linebacker.
“He was the first one,” Smith said. “And he did it twice.”
It's why Smith has no worries when he looks out at his defense and sees a linebacker corps that's light on 6-footers. Or that his ferocious senior defensive end Jatarious Battle is 5-8 and 215 pounds.
Battle and his teammates won't wow with their heights and weights, but they will make you pay should you take them lightly.
In the past two seasons, Pattonville was within a minute of winning the Class 5 state championship and became the two-time reigning Suburban XII South Conference champion. It's the first time the Pirates have won back-to-back league titles.
The bulk of the players who were part of those successes have graduated. There are just three returning starters on offense and four returning starters on defense from last season's team, which finished 8-3 and lost to De Smet in a Class 6 district tournament semifinal.
Even with the wholesale changes, Pattonville is the No. 9 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings. The Pirates have established a culture of success, one that Smith said welcomes the roster turnover of high school football.
“That's what it's all about. We expect to lose guys. We don't want to have a guy that's always there and then we miss him,” Smith said. “We always plan to make sure the next group of guys are as good if not better than the group before them. I think the coaches have been doing a good job of that.”
The Pirates will get to see how effective their program is this season. They are replacing three offensive linemen, their quarterback, their running backs and all but one receiver.
“It's definitely different,” Huls said. “We have to step it up and show them what the varsity is about.”
Junior receiver Elijah Carter (6-2, 190) returns after he caught 12 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
He'll have a new quarterback in junior Logan Williams (6-1, 190), who'll make his varsity debut this season. Williams is getting used to the speed of the game at this level.
“It's definitely an adjustment, especially being my first year starting on varsity,” Williams said.
Sanderson had 60 tackles and five sacks last season. Battle had 29 tackles and five sacks, too.
While the Pirates may lack experience, Sanderson has no doubt that they have more than enough talent to compete on the field with anyone on their schedule.
“We have a lot of juniors who it's their first time playing (varsity). They've stepped up,” Sanderson said. “There were positions to fill but I'm confident about everything going into this season.”
Sanderson and Huls got to see first hand how the 2017 team battled all the way to the state championship game and what it took to get there. Those lessons are the foundation on which Pattonville has built itself.
“We've built a tradition and a culture,” Sanderson said. “It's positive and it motivates everybody.”
Pattonville powered through a solid public school schedule last fall. Their three losses came to Hickman in a heart breaker on opening night, eventual Class 4 champion Ladue and then De Smet in the district tournament. Every regular season win was by 10 or more points and yet the Pirates still feel overlooked even after all their recent success.
It's just the way Smith likes it.
“We don't worry about anything but our next opponent, what's in front of us and doing our jobs. We like to have a chip on our shoulders,” Smith said. I want (the players) to think nobody likes them and let's go take care of business.”